17 Hands and 1 Eye

Patch, 2017 Kentucky Derby contender

It’s Triple Crown season, a time when the world revels at the elite athleticism and quintessential beauty of 3-year-old thoroughbred horses. They are smart, strong and graceful. Their chiseled heads, muscular bodies and long legs create a a sea of equine perfection as they speed around the track.

Trainers ensure their peak performance for every race. Spectators travel far and wide to watch them race. Sports reporters broadcast their winning attributes and paparazzi make them cover models.

Yet to the so-called normal, there are those contenders whose gold medal worthy abilities are sidelines for the “disabled” label.

How can a one-eyed horse run the Kentucky Derby?

Well, because he has four legs, a lot of talent and is the best of the best.

In fact, four top-notch horses that were one-eyed have raced in the Kentucky Derby.

In 1982, Cassaleria, who had injured his left eye as a young foal, was the first to run in the Derby. He finished 13th.

Following in his hoof steps, Pollard’s Vision raced in 2004. He was blind in his right eye and finished 17th.

Storm in May, also blind in his right eye, ran the Derby in 2007 finishing 16th.

Patch, the 2017 Derby fan favorite, finished 14th. He had his left eye surgically removed as a 2-year-old following a presumed accident.

But the superior athletic prowess of the visually-impaired variety isn’t limited to horses. A few two-legged notables:

Red Pollard, whose name inspired that of Pollard’s Vision, was Seabiscuit’s jockey. He lost vision in his right eye due to traumatic brain injury resulting from being hit in the head by a rock kicked up by another horse during training. He kept his vision loss a secret, as it would have prevented him from riding at the time. (Thank goodness times have changed, though there is still a very long way to go.)

Track and field Olympian Marla Runyon has won gold medals in Paralympic and Pan American Games. She was the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics, and had the highest American finish in the 1,500 meter race at the 2000 Sydney games.

Anthony Clarke represented Australia in five summer Paralympic games, and was on the winners’ podium at the 1993 Australia National Judo Championships. He was a teenager when he lost his right eye in a car accident.

All of these accomplished athletes reached tremendous success in their sports because of talent, drive and dedication. It is the kind of everyday exceptionalism that is available to anyone — not a differentiating factor that separates the so-called normal from those they perceive as “disabled.”